Boston Creates presents feedback, community agrees on priorities

Boston Creates, the City’s first comprehensive master plan to empower local artist and support cultural institutions, held a meeting on Nov. 2 at Boston Latin School to summarize the findings from previous meetings, hear community feedback about those findings and narrow in on general priorities.

The feedback from the community was mostly in agreement with the findings and breakout sessions were conducted to hear more detailed reactions.

The summary of the findings came from a Boston Creates meeting in June, subsequent community conversations and a survey, which was available over the summer.

Julie Burros, who is the City’s Chief of Arts and Culture and plays a crucial role in the project, emceed the event.

“We’re at the midway point in this process,” she said.

Burros also said that the council of Boston Creates plans to release its full findings in the next couple of weeks.

Mayor Martin Walsh attended the event and made some opening remarks to the audience.

“Boston is dying for a robust conversation on the arts,” he said. “My administration remains committed to arts and culture in the city of Boston.”

The mayor had not attended the previous meeting on June 2.

“I haven’t really been engaged in this process because it’s not my process, it’s our process,” Walsh said.

“I want Boston to be the top arts and cultural city in the country,” he continued. He emphasized that priority by stating that Burros sits in on cabinet meetings every Friday and updates the cabinet about what is happening around arts in the city, which according to him hasn’t happened in more than 25 years.

“This isn’t my plan. This is the city of Boston’s plan,” he said.

Boston Creates took data from the research it conducted over the summer and organized it into 11 themes that represent the community’s expressed needs, aspirations and vision for the city in terms of Boston’s arts and cultural vitality.

The 11 themes are: Embracing a City of Neighborhoods and Cultures; Addressing Access and Equity; Enhancing Arts and Cultural Programming; Expanding Youth Arts; Increasing Spaces for Facilities; Supporting Boston’s Local Artists; Supporting Boston’s Arts and Cultural Organizations; Improving Access to Information on Arts and Culture; Engaging Cross Sector Collaboration and Learning; and Expanding Boston City Government Support for Arts and Culture.

The meeting included breakout sessions where smaller groups had a chance to voice feedback on the summary and add suggestions for strategies.

In one breakout group, the zoning process was mentioned as being instrumental for developing and prioritizing artist space.

“We need incentives for developers to include workspaces or theater spaces in buildings,” said Ray Bachand, who makes custom furniture. “It needs to start at the zoning process.”

Jason McCool, a member of Solas Nua, a theater company in Somerville, said his top priority is funding.

“Ticket prices [for performances] don’t always correlate with the richness of the experience,” he said. “Grants are geared towards big organizations,” he continued, and expressed a desire to distribute grants to smaller organizations.

Eliana Lopez, who is the finance and administrative director at BostonAPP/Lab, said that a focus should be “leveraging organizations that are also facilitators and supporting those in such a way that trickle down support and funding.”

Other comments in one breakout group were that there is little equity on who is invited and allowed to participate in many arts and cultural events, that youths are not being heard, and that more revenue from the lottery should go to the arts.

Boston has more nonprofit arts and cultural organizations per capita than other major cities. Community members in one breakout group said that because of the high amount of these nonprofits, there is more competition for resources.

Some community members expressed a desire for a program similar to affordable housing to be used to implement affordable housing specifically for artists and arts organizations.

At the end of the meeting, facilitators asked attendees to indicate their top three priorities by placing stickers on boards, which represented each of the 11 themes. Each board had many stickers on it, and it was hard to say which themes had the most votes.

The next steps in the plan are to develop corresponding strategies based on the highest priorities from the community. These strategies will be organized around a theoretical framework of “creative capital,” which is based on the idea that creativity of residents and creative culture of the city are important assets and create a culturally vibrant and inclusive community. Adoption and implementation of the strategies from Boston Creates is expected to be completed by June 2016.

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